Arguing against the complementarian understanding of headship on pp.166-68 of Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness, GB makes a few leaps on 1 Cor 11:3…
[It is] a statement about the headship of Christ to man (A), man to woman (B) and God to Christ (C). With total disregard for the biblical ordering of those three clauses a glib but popular interpretation of this verse turns it topsy-turvy to make it a hierarchy. A top-down God-Christ-Man-Woman chain of command is obtained by shifting the clauses around and by rendering “head” as authority – ABC becomes CAB!
However, the biblical order for these verses is not one of hierarchy (CAB) but of servanthood (ABC): The head of every man is Christ because at creation, when all things were made through him, he endowed the man with life (A); then, the head of the woman is man because her life was drawn from the man (B); and finally, the head of Christ is God because God provided the life of the Son at the Incarnation (C). With this sequence that culminates with God, Paul wanted to demonstrate a truth he stated in the immediate context: ultimately “everything comes from God”. (167)
A major problem with this interpretation is that GB wants to make something of the ‘physical’ order of Paul’s clauses in order to undermine any discussion of their logical relationships, and so has simply decided that the heuristic order is one of temporal sequence – creation of Adam, creation of Eve, Incarnation of Christ. But the idea of the incarnation is not present anywhere in the context. And if Paul was interested in saying that men and women have a totally symmetrical relationship, why chose to make so much of the temporal order of two events very close in time (creation of Adam and of Eve in relation to the Incarnation, as if what was important about salvation history was ‘…creation of males, followed by creation of females, followed by incarnation of Son of God…’) there in verse 3? And again again in verse 12, the asymmetry of which GB does not even touch on? Neither temporal history nor mythological history nor Heilsgeschichte is crucial to Paul’s point here: he is talking about propriety in worship now on the basis of sex differences that find analogies in other relationships in which the Godhead is involved. It will not do for GB simply to scoff at some normal verbal reasoning (such as we might find in school entrance exams for 11-year olds – it’s not rocket science!) as the reader notices that C:M, M:W and G:C make a chain G:C:M:W. Paul did not have to put the relational pairs into that latter ‘order’ because anyone reading the text can infer the ‘order’ if necessary. [There is plenty more that can be said about GB’s flat usage of ‘authority’ in dealing with his opponents, and his mischaracterisation of complementarian exegesis, but not right now!]
Nevertheless this interpretation apparently explains for GB why the Holy Spirit is absent from these verses (167), since he thinks that if authority were in view, then the Spirit should be there in the chain of command. This is an odd claim indeed. GB has already announced the role of the Spirit in giving life (back in Genesis and in regeneration, the new life of the Christian) so in fact if either the word kephale or the thrust of this passage were about source of life, as GB wants to claim, we would be more likely to see the Spirit in the list. Whereas the Spirit is of course never called head of the church anywhere in the Bible, so his omission from a section that looks at authority relationships is not in the least surprising. [Do we see here that the more GB tries to expound his bad interpretation of 1 Cor 11, the more unstuck he comes…?]
GB’s exposition also completely ignores verses 4-10 which have more than a little relevance to the question of the relationship between men and women, and contain such statements as a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. The idea of authority is hardly absent from the context. Plus, we have Wayne Grudem’s exhaustive study of kephale (head) which demonstrates that ‘head’, not ‘source’, is the primary meaning of the term over several centuries of Greek usage [a 1985 article in Trinity Journal 6, 38-59, which surveys over 2,000 examples; and further interaction with other scholars in ‘The Meaning of Kephale (“Head”): A Response to Recent Studies’ in Grudem & Piper, eds, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway, 1991), pp.425-68.] GB simply assumes the meaning ‘source’ in the passage quoted at the top, without any discussion or admission of evidence to the contrary.